The Difference Between Verse and Chorus Rhythm

It may seem counterintuitive, but chorus lyrics usually become less rhythmically active.


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Gotye - Somebody That I Used To KnowSince song choruses typically become more energetic than their preceding verses, it may seem that chorus lyrics (i.e., the rhythms that you would use to set the words) should become more rhythmically active. But in fact, you’ll notice that in many songs, the opposite happens. While the chorus uses backing instrumental rhythms that are shorter and more intense, you’ll find that the chorus lyric uses longer rhythms.

That may seem counterintuitive, but there’s a good reason for it, and it has to do with the primary purpose of chorus lyrics. A chorus lyric has the main duty of describing the singer’s emotions, their reaction to what the verse has just described.

To allow emotion to work, you’ll find that many songs (though not all) feature an elongation of rhythmic values in the lyric. You’ll notice it to a modest degree in Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know”, and to a greater extent with Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger.”

Not only do those choruses feature longer notes than their verses, you’ll also note that the rhythms become more predictable, repetitive, and feature more repeated rhythmic cells.

You can draw a direct correlation between that predictable feature of chorus rhythm, and the predictable feature of chorus chords. That move from “fragile” verses (i.e., rhythmically and harmonically complex or ambiguous) to a “strong” chorus (i.e., rhythmically and harmonically settled) is the common approach for most songs in popular music genres.

As a songwriter, don’t fear that word predictable. It’s a characteristic that needs to exist in most music to at least some degree. And that sense of predictability of chorus rhythm allows for the important element of emotion to come forward.

That has the beneficial effect of roping your listeners in, and keeping them listening.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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One Comment

  1. The rhythms of verses, being more complex, may simply have to do with the story telling aspect of a verse where each verse has more to say in only a limited amount of bars, as opposed to the chorus which does make room for the emotional wailings of the Gotye song in reference. It is interesting to point out that the chorus has become the emotional response to the verse before it. That observation is a good way to organize your thoughts as you write.

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